The New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team recently won two Rugby World Cup tournaments back to back, the only team on the planet to do that. There were many contributing factors, one of which was their ability to focus only on the positive.
Over a period of 12 years – as a team – they developed the positivity focused culture responsible for driving their success. They gave no time or energy to all the things that went wrong (apart from identifying that they were regrettable), instead they kept their attention and training focused clearly on what would make them great. They found opportunities to congratulate each other when things were going right and when things were not going as well as they might like, they supported each other to stick to their team values and stay on course for success, knowing success would come as long as they paid attention to the important stuff.
This positivity focused state doesn’t come naturally, it must be nurtured and cultivated as a daily practice.
Noticing the negative as a survival mechanism.
It’s easy to notice when things aren’t going how you want. We humans are programmed to detect when things are off or wrong; our ancestors kept themselves alive by constantly scanning their environment for danger. It really could be a matter of life or death if they missed the sound of nearby predator or weren’t vigilant at discerning between a poisonous plant and a similar looking edible one. We can assume they also noticed when things were good, but their survival depended on noticing when they weren’t.
The same survival programs are still alive in us today as part of our instinct and default mechanisms. Even in our modern world, we are wired to notice the problems and try to get rid of, fix or improve them. In doing so, we frequently miss the positives right under our noses.
Negativity in the workplace
The leader who focuses too much on problems will fail to inspire their people. When you lead people you must be able to take a balanced overview of the reality of the situation; identifying all the positives and negatives – all the good stuff as well as the parts that need work.
People need to be appreciated for what they do well. They feel good when their skills and efforts are acknowledged, recognized and valued. This is what engages them to do more and strive for even better results. If they receive only negative feedback about where they are lacking, they quickly lose motivation. Feeling unappreciated and ‘never good enough’, they are more likely to show up to work lethargic and apathetic than energized and committed. They do less productive work, waste more time and complain more.
How to develop your Positivity Scanner
The skilled leader knows how to give people the right amount of positive feedback to raise their enthusiasm and just enough challenge to improve on the areas that most need development. Here are some actionable steps:
1. Catch people doing things right. Rather than noticing when people are getting it wrong, look for ways they are getting it right and acknowledge them for it.
When giving positive feedback, let the person know what impact their action has on you and the organisation. Be authentic. Talk about how their positive action fits with your values. For example, ‘Janet, can I just say how much I appreciate receiving your report on time – I really value efficiency and teamwork and you holding up your part of this project in this way helps us all meet the targets. Thanks.’
2. Send a note. If you want to really underline something good in an employee, send them a note of appreciation when you notice them doing well. You would be surprised how often they might reread it, many people are starved of feeling valued.
3. Give more positive than negative. To help people stay motivated to grow, make sure the balance is tipped toward more positive feedback than negative. If you have several issues you’d like to resolve with an employee, carefully think about which of them would have the biggest positive impact on the overall situation and have them focus on that first. Other improvements can come later. Think of it as paying into someone’s Emotional Bank Account to keep a healthy balance there.
It takes effort to work against our intrinsic habit of noticing the negative but we can train ourselves to pay attention to the whole spectrum of any situation. There are always positives to notice even in difficult situations. With practice, you will find that you will notice them more and more, which helps you to feel more balanced and happy too. In fact, being able to find a positive aspect in any situation will help you build your own resilience to change and stress.
Talk to us if you'd like to become a positivity focused leader.
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